Running at Night: What You Need to Know

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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Running at Night: What You Need to Know

While early risers seem to be lauded in the world of fitness and productivity, night owls shouldn’t be underestimated. After all, a workout is a workout — it often boils down to consistency. If you find yourself lagging in the morning but motivated and feeling peppy in the evening, lean into that feeling rather than trying to resist. It’s OK to not be a morning person … Or, you might find that your peak productivity for work comes in the morning when you’re well-rested and you’d rather focus on the intellectual work in the morning and end the day with your run.

Nighttime runners are more common than you’d think and it’s completely fine to be one — you’ll likely find that you run faster and feel better when you accept your individual preferences and work with them, not against them.

As the days are getting longer, running in the dark is becoming less of an issue. However night runs come with other safety issues, as well as the added onus of waning motivation and a full day of nutrition.

Here are a few ways to keep motivation high and nighttime runs more effective and fun.

FORCE MOTIVATION

OK, you’ve accepted that you’re a night runner. The problem? The million other things on your to-do list when the workday ends. If you find yourself getting home and delaying your run or canceling it because of laundry, phone calls, dinner or that work project, don’t go home until your run is done. Do your workout right after work, go straight to the gym, run from the parking lot of your office or stop at the local high school track on your way home. If that won’t work with your schedule, find another way to force yourself out of the house, whether it’s enlisting a training buddy, planning a session at the gym with a trainer or just putting it on the calendar and warning family that from 8–9 p.m., you’re running.

PLAN MEALTIMES

Early runners benefit from having relatively blank slates to work with: They can eat and drink to prep specifically for their workouts. But you, as a night runner, have already hit most of the day’s meals before you’re thinking about heading out the door. Allow yourself at least two hours from your last full meal before running to avoid gastrointestinal issues — that might mean dinnertime is shifted earlier or moved to post-run instead. Those with Type 2 diabetes should aim for post-dinner runs, as research has shown running after dinner can help lower their risk of cardiovascular disease more effectively.

HAVE A BACKUP PLAN

Nighttime runs are more likely to be thwarted than morning ones, thanks to life getting in the way. Have a backup plan in place: A few favorite yoga flows bookmarked on your browser, a set of free weights and a list of bodyweight exercises you can run through or a treadmill in the house. (Many people can’t afford or don’t have space for a big, electronic treadmill, but manual treadmills are fine for walking and available for less than $300.)

EXERCISE CAUTION

If you choose to run outside, be smart about it. Wear a headlamp even for dusk runs, and pick clothing with reflective strips or piping — night runners might even want a full high-vis jacket or vest. Sticking to well-lit, populated areas mitigates many of the safety risks posed, as does finding a fellow night runner to go exploring with. If you don’t feel safe on the street, it might be time to invest in a 24-hour gym membership or a treadmill for your home.

ENJOY A MIDNIGHT SNACK

If dinner was at 6 p.m., and you’re hopping off the treadmill at 11 p.m., you’ll likely wake up feeling ravenous if you just hop into bed. Save yourself from a 2 a.m. wake up by having a quick protein shake ready to go, and sip it post-workout to help aid muscle recovery and ensure you’ll make it through the night. A protein shake — whey or pea protein are great options — won’t spike your blood sugar or keep you awake longer, it will satiate your stomach and promote a better night of rest and recovery.

GET BETTER SLEEP 

Years ago, studies claimed exercising late in the day would impact sleep. The good news: According to a survey done by the National Sleep Foundation, exercise leads to better sleep — even exercising late in the day. Other research has shown that exercising before bed may actually promote better sleep, though it may take a few months before you see that benefit. Just make sure you’re prepping for bed properly, cooling down effectively at the end of your run, not hitting the sugary, high-carb snacks right before bed and preparing for sleep with a relaxing book or soothing music. If you notice you have trouble chilling out after a workout, add mini-slow speed yoga session or few minutes of meditation to close your workout to help downregulate your system and get you ready for bed.


READ MORE > HOW TO KEEP JET LAG FROM RUINING YOUR RACE


REMEMBER TO PREP FOR RACE SEASON

Unfortunately, not many running events take place at night. There are a few, sure, but if something like the Boston Marathon is a bucket-list item, you’ll have to run in the morning at least for that event. So while most runs can happen in the evening, in the few months leading up to an early-start race, try for at least one early run per week to get used to waking up and getting out the door. That simple shift can make a huge difference in your racing success.

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside, travel and athletic style on TheOutdoorEdit.com, or she’s interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete Podcast. You can follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat at @mollyjhurford.

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